Praying for Courage

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Photograph of Boxing GlovesBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty father,

Blessed be your name oh God of the universe, because you display the courage to create and sustain this world. You are not afraid to be the first or the only one to love and participate in this dangerous world.

I confess that I do not often display such courage and have not followed your example in Jesus Christ.

I give thanks for your patience with me and for the many times that you have forgiven my weakness and rebellion.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant me the strength to follow your example and become the courageous person that you created me to be. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Praying for Courage

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/MayBe_2019

Continue Reading

Ocean Breakers

ShipOfFools_web_07292016But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; …
For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
(Isa 43:1-3 ESV)

Ocean Breakers

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I have known fear.

We entered 1993 with my son set for surgery, with me in a new position, and with fear after fear mounting like ocean breakers crashing on the beach. When Maryam was then diagnosed with breast cancer [1], we were being bombarded with highly technical medical information which we had no criteria to evaluate—we were just pulling our hair out.

Shortly after Maryam was diagnosed with breast cancer her mother, Naranj, came from Iran to live with us. The kid’s (Christine, Narsis, and Reza) started calling Naranj, Mama Bozorg (big mother in Parsi), and soon we all did—she was an angel who lived with us off and on for the next ten years. Mama Bozorg often watched the kids while Maryam and I were off on doctor visits.

Throughout this period Maryam was fearful that she would die of cancer, while I questioned the advice we received from the doctors. Breast cancer is insidious—it starts out as a small lump the size of an eraser on the end of a pencil when you have no symptoms whatsoever. Her mammogram showed no lump; her doctor missed it; Maryam found the cancer in a self-exam. So before anything seemed out of the ordinary, my young, beautiful wife was undergoing physical exams by numerous doctors, often in front of me, and disfiguring procedures were under active discussion. It did not bother her; it bothered me. I felt abused and violated—facing similar circumstances, friends of ours divorced. In the end, we were never again be able to have children.

Desperate to understand whether our doctors were giving us good advice, I stumbled on the website of the National Cancer Institutes’ website.[2] On the website, I found a list of recommendations for the standards of care for each type of cancer and every stage of that cancer. This was called the physicians data query (PDQ). The PDQ allowed us to determine that Maryam’s doctors were giving us state of the art advice for her treatment. Consequently, Maryam had a lumpectomy, localized radiation, and a five-year regime of tamoxifen, consistent with the PDQ.

Meanwhile, I was hunkered down in my work just trying to stay employed—no work; no medical plan.

When I wasn’t working, I was working late nights to learn a new programming language, C++, which was all the rage, in part, because it allowed object-oriented program designs to be implemented. Developed by AT&T’s Bell Labs to implement complex telecom systems, C++ programming required a much higher level of abstraction than structured programming languages, like C or FORTRAN (Complien 1992, x).[3] Fearful of losing my job and fascinated with the prospects of C++, it was hard to be fully present at home where we now had three kids in diapers and no back up.

With my parents living in West Lafayette, Indiana and my siblings located in different place, family get togethers for holidays were fun, but not always easy to manage. Maryam and I were the first to have kids at a time when everyone else had not yet taken the plunge. People tried to be flexible, but the effect was like the Brady Bunch breaking into a singles club. For example, at one point my sister, Diane, invited us to Baltimore Harbor to take a day cruise on her new boat. It sounded like great fun to me, but unable to swim and afraid that a child would go overboard, Maryam resisted; she ended up watching the kids in the hotel room while I took the cruise with everyone else. It was awkward; just awkward.

Adding breast cancer treatments to our already awkward situation meant that we were stretched both physically and emotionally. Treatments were stressful and created tremendous uncertainty. I attended important doctor visits, but, often as not, I got kid duty while Maryam went to routine appointments alone because Mama Bozorg was quite elderly. Fortunately, Maryam refused to put up with bureaucratic run-around and insisted on her appointments and was disciplined in taking her medications.

Normally, it is risky for cancer patients to go to appointments alone, because cancer leaves one emotionally impaired and doctors often do not communicate well enough to be understood without serious cross examination. It is accordingly important to have a well-informed, advocate in the room, but at least a spouse. Another reason why an advocate is needed is because appointments were often hard to schedule and medically critical for treatment, especially on the second round with breast cancer. In the years since we went through these two rounds of cancer, I have seen other patients, who were not so assertive in getting their appointments and treatments,  needlessly pass away—cancer patients need advocates.

While we anticipated the medical problems associated with breast cancer and learned that a cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, we did not anticipate social and psychological effects that invariably accompany cancer. Socially, we learned that most people have an emotional threshold below which they are supportive and above which they begin to back away—it was extremely painful to watch close friends and family back away. Psychologically, cancer is often associated with severe depression among all those that are touched. In our case, we learned to deal with the depression by taking evening walks together and by getting out of the house more often—Maryam by returning to work as a teacher and Stephen by returning to leadership in the church.

[1] This pattern of stress followed by diagnosis of a medical problem in the following year has been noted in family system’s theory, especially among families that are very close. Stress compromises the immune system which can over time invite opportunistic diseases, such as cancer, to develop (Friedman 1985, 121-146). It is not unusual, for example, to observe patients in an emergency development in the hospital suffering from a wide range of physical and psychological problems after a death in the immediate family.

[2] www.cancer.gov.

[3] Data structures and functions could be tied together to create objects that mirrored the processes being modeled and facilitated new more secure error-trapping routine to reduce program maintenance. Furthermore, C++ programs also facilitated Windows programming which allowed users to run complex financial models with menus, pick lists, and selection boxes so that no programming knowledge was required. Add to that hypertext help systems and graphics and the results seemed almost magical at a time when most people did not understand spreadsheets and word processing.

References

Coplien, James O. 1992. Advanced C++ Programming Styles and Idioms. Reading: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Friedman, Edwin H. 1985. Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue. New York: Guilford Press.

Continue Reading

Living Testimony

Life_in_Tension_web“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them,
nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared
to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope
that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
(1 Peter 3:14-15 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The New Testament is full of a allusions to persecution which are mostly edited out when passages are cited in worship services and other uses.

For example, the citation above is normally cited entirely out of context as: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). The snipet is entirely upbeat and usually cited as the reason to argue apologetically for the faith. At least three things are missing when this is done. First, there is no recognition of the context of persecution. Second, there is no recognition of Peter’s admonition to speak “with gentleness and respect”. Finally, the verbal defend often highlighted entirely misses the point that the entire letter focuses on “lifestyle evangelism”—living out the faith, not talking about the faith, and only that one phrase mentions a verbal defend.

In fact, one could argue that practicing for a verbal defense is contrary to scripture, because Jesus says:

“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12 ESV)

The tension that we feel with others over our faith is expected because of the work and power of the Holy Spirit manifested in our lives. Notice the order of events in this admonition:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

It is the power of the Holy Spirit acting in us that leads us to become witnesses.

Because it is the power the Holy Spirit that leads us into this tension, it is neither our propensity to be vocal nor a desire to take risks that leads us to witness for Christ. The opposite is also true. It is neither our shyness in front of people nor our risk aversion that holds us back in witnessing for Christ—in our joy in salvation we want to tell the whole world! However, fear can quelch the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Barthel and Edling (2012, 101) note:

“When individuals in groups are motivated by fear of the opinion of other people (what others personally think about them) more than the fear of God, their hearts grow cold to the Spirit of God. Lacking God-consciousness, there is no restraining the motivation of the heart; only world passions and popularity with crowd control. This is common in church conflicts. Defensiveness, self-righteousness, and pride rule the day when people vien in to the fear of man.”

It is interesting that where we frequently pray for protection the early church prayed for boldness in their witness [1]. The problem facing the church of Laodicea, so common today, seems to have come later. As the Apostle John prophesied:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16 ESV)

Finney (1982,74-76) lists six consequences of quelching the Holy Spirit in our lives:

  1. Darkness of mind—the truth makes no useful impression.
  2. Coldness towards religion.
  3. Holding various errors in religion.
  4. Disbelief.
  5. Delusion regarding one’s spiritual state.
  6. Attempts to justify wrongdoing.

In this list we observe problems of tension with ourselves, with others, and with God. Fear of others, particularly persecution, leads us to abandon our faith both in God and in ourselves in a kind of downward spiral. Is it any wonder than in our times of timid faith, many are are burdened daily with debilitating anxiety and treated for depression even on sunny days? One wonders if increasing persecution is less about other people than it is about our own weakness and doubt—like a feeding frenzy observed among wounded fish.

Barthel and Edling (2012, 89) observe churches in conflict snapping to their senses when leaders are reminded of the need to remain God-centered and to reframe conflict around well-choice questions for reflection. Of course, this rings a bit like sound pastoral advice for us as individuals as well.

What is your favorite scripture passage?

[1] “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:29-31 ESV)

REFERENCES

Barthel, Tara Klena and David V. Edling. 2012. Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Finney, Charles. 1982. The Spirit-Filled Life (Orig pub 1845-61). New Kensington: Whitaker House.

Continue Reading

Lucado Calls Out Fear; Instills Peace

Max Lucado, Fearless

Max Lucado.  2009.  Fearless:  Imagine Your Life Without Fear.   Nashville:  Thomas Nelson.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you believe in divine intervention?  I do.  Let me give an example.

In 2010, I signed up for a small group discussion at church.  A couple days later the small group coordinator called to ask me:  because the group that I have signed up for was over-subscribed, would I be willing to join another group?  No problem, I said reluctantly thinking to myself–why would I want to join a group proposing to talk about fear?  So I bought the book.  As I started reading, I found my life jumping off the pages–not only had fear crept into my life; it was quietly dictating a lot of my decisions.  Through almost no effort on my part, God had directed me to a major stronghold in my life and helped me deal with it (Psalm 18:2).

What was the book? It was Max Lucado’s  Fearless:  Imagining Your Life Without Fear.

Introduction

Lucado observes that:  ordinary children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950s (5).  He goes on to observe that fear displaces happiness; fear is unproductive; fear is self-defeating.  Jesus spoke out against fear, for example, after the storm on the Galilee saying:  why were you afraid? (Matthew 8:26; 6)  In suggesting the destructive potential of fear, Lucado (9) cites Martin Niemoeller’s observation in 1933 that the tyrant that Adolf Hilter became was born in fear.  Is it any wonder that Christ is famous for bringing peace:  Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me (John 14:1 NLT;  11)?

Organization

Lucado’s book is organized in 15 chapters.  The first chapter, partially summarized above, poses the question:  why are we afraid?  The next 13 chapters focus on case studies of fears that we commonly confront–fear of not mattering, of disappointing God, of running out, of not protecting our kids, of overwhelming challenges, of worst-case scenarios, of violence, of the coming winter, of life’s final moments, of what’s next, that God is not real, of global calamity, of God getting out of my box.  The final chapter concludes with stories reiterating the problems caused merely by fear and with people’s responses to tragedy.  The final of these is the story of a young missionary who, as he watched his home burned the ground, recited a psalm and found solace in God (178-180).  After the conclusions, Lucado provides a discussion guide with questions for small groups.  In my own small group, we also viewed a related DVD based video.

Fears Need to Be Named

When Jesus cast the unclean spirit out of the man in the Gerasenes, he started by asking: What is your name? (Mark 5:9 ESV).  Lucado approaches our fears in a similar matter.  By naming our fears, he deprives them of their power.  He then redirects us to God where the power of the Holy Spirit may be found.

Parental Fear

Perhaps one of the most insidious fears is the fear of parents that they will be powerless to protect their kids.  This is especially true of your first child because you feel totally unprepared for the job of parenting and terribly vulnerable.  Lucado (57) notes that: fear distilleries concoct a high-octane brew for parents–a primal gut-wrenching, pulse-stilling dose.  When our children have teachable moments, Lucado (60) observes that out of fear we often become both paranoid and permissive when we should be trusting God and modeling trust to our children.

He recommends that we pour our fears out to God, not to our children, and pray with them about the issues that they confront (61).  The principle here is that:  we cannot protect our children from every threat in life, but we can take them to the Source of Life (61).   Remember that young children often look at their parents before they decide to cry–even when badly injured–and, when they see we are afraid, they cry.  Throughout his discussion, Lucado looks to scripture for guidance.  In this chapter, he reviews stories of Abraham (Genesis 22), Jairus (Luke 8), the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15), and the father with the epileptic son (Matthew 17), but lingers longest on the story of Jairus.  He concludes that clearly: God has a heart for hurting parents (63).

Assessment

Max Lucado’s Fearless is a book to read and pass around.  His writing contains numerous stories which makes his writing both accessible and interesting.  After 9-11, after so many years of the Great Recession and war, Fearless is clearly a book for our times.

Lucado Calls Out Fear; Instills Peace

Continue Reading